Miles Sanders

Giants Factored Into Panthers’ Trade-Up Move For RB Jonathon Brooks

Three years ago, Giants connections to DeVonta Smith prompted the Eagles to trade up (via the Cowboys) to outflank their rivals for the Heisman-winning wide receiver. A middle-class version of that situation looks to have played out during this year’s draft.

Not making a strong effort to retain Saquon Barkley in free agency, the Giants pivoted to ex-Brian Daboll Bills charge Devin Singletary at a lower rate. They did add another running back in the draft, addressing the position (Tyrone Tracy Jr.) in the fifth round for the second straight year. The Panthers made a move to ensure the Giants’ investment at the position did not come sooner.

Citing the Giants bringing in Jonathon Brooks for a “30” visit, Panthers GM Dan Morgan advocated to David Tepper the team should trade up to move ahead of the NFC East club for the Texas RB at No. 46. Morgan said he knew of other teams viewing Brooks as this draft’s top running back. Considering Brooks was chosen 20 picks before the second RB went off the board, it seems like a safe assumption other clubs shared Carolina’s view of the ex-Longhorns ball-carrier.

The Panthers traded down from No. 39, allowing the Rams to move up for Florida State defensive lineman Braden Fiske — a deal that gave Carolina a 2025 second-rounder. They sent the Colts two fifths to climb from 52 to 46, with the Giants sitting at 47. New York eventually took Minnesota safety Tyler Nubin, marking the second straight year the Giants went with a Golden Gophers prospect (following center John Michael Schmitz) in Round 2.

We knew that if we traded [No. 39] there would be a player that we would miss out on. We were comfortable with that because we really wanted Brooks, and to be able to get the two next year, we said, OK, once our guys start going, then we’re going have to move back up,” Morgan said, via’s Darin Gantt. “It’s not like we did anything that was so smart or great or whatever; we were just willing to take a larger risk to get that outcome of the trade. It’s like, let’s not get cute here. Let’s just get our guy.”

Morgan and Giants GM Joe Schoen worked together for a stretch in Buffalo, helping give the new Panthers front office boss some insight on how his former coworker could be handling Round 2 in this year’s draft. Morgan also called Schoen about moving up, Gantt adds, while new Panthers exec Brandt Tilis contacted ex-Chiefs coworker Chris Ballard — a conversation that led to the Day 2 swap with the Colts.

Brooks fell to No. 46 in part because of a November ACL tear. He had still amassed 1,139 rushing yards (6.1 per tote) and 10 touchdowns in 11 games last year. With Chuba Hubbard going into a contract year, the Panthers made the move to add a successor early. While Brooks is not yet cleared for full work, he is expected to be back for training camp. He looks set to be eased into action, however, with The Athletic’s Joe Person indicating Hubbard is the “clear leader” on the depth chart going into camp (subscription required).

Hubbard usurped free agent signing Miles Sanders, who received last year’s top UFA RB contract (four years, $25.4MM), during Carolina’s dismal season. The former fourth-round pick totaled 902 rushing yards behind an injury-plagued O-line, averaging only 3.8 per carry, and scored five touchdowns. Sanders also suffered a heel injury while working out on his own, and the malady worsened during OTAs, Person adds.

Considering the Panthers also added Rashaad Penny — who overlapped with Dave Canales in Seattle — and it would not be shocking to see them move on from Sanders despite the dead money hit that would come. Though, it would cost Carolina more than $7MM to drop Sanders; the team would also carry 2025 dead money from that transaction.

As for the Giants, they have been linked to adding another veteran RB to the mix. Singletary is in place as the projected starter, with Tracy and Eric Gray behind him. The team has not re-signed multiyear backup Matt Breida. New York did add UFL rushing leader Jacob Saylors on Tuesday, but its backfield obviously does not appear as imposing as it did when Barkley resided atop the depth chart.

With costs rising on Big Blue’s payroll, the team opted not to re-sign the two-time Pro Bowler. It is not known if the Giants truly would have taken Brooks as a Barkley successor in Round 2, but the Panthers took that option off the table to be safe.

Panthers To Retain RB Miles Sanders, Likely To Sign CB Stephon Gilmore

The Panthers made Jonathon Brooks the first running back off the board in this weekend’s draft, trading two fifth-round picks to move up six spots in the second round to select the former Texas standout. However, the Brooks pick does not impact RB Miles Sanders‘ standing with the team.

As first-year GM Dan Morgan said, “we love Miles. We see a big role for him. He can do a lot for our offense. He’s versatile in the pass game and he’s a really good runner. So we’re excited about him, as well” (via Joseph Person of The Athletic (subscription required)).

New head coach Dave Canales added, “all these guys (Brooks, Sanders, and Chuba Hubbard) are going to play. Look at the history of league. Every team I’ve been on, we used all of our running backs at different points because it’s such a violent position.”

Sanders, who will turn 27 this week, slogged through a miserable 2023, his first year in Charlotte after he parlayed a strong tenure with the Eagles into a four-year, $25MM contract with the Panthers last March (he was the only RB to secure a contract over three years in length last offseason, and his $6.25MM AAV was tops among all running backs who received more than a one-year term). His signing was championed by former HC Frank Reich and assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley, but when Reich and Staley were fired in November, Sanders’ role diminished.

In 16 games last season, the 2022 Pro Bowler handled 129 carries for 432 yards, which amounted to a poor 3.3 yards-per-carry average. He did catch 27 passes for 154 yards, but he scored just one total touchdown. In fairness, the Panthers’ offense as a whole was an unmitigated disaster in 2023, finishing last in the league in both yards and points, and it stands to reason that the team would want to give a talented back another look in a Canales-led unit that has no place to go but up. Plus, while Carolina would actually realize some cap savings by trading Sanders, he likely has no trade value at this point given his poor showing last season and the fact that he still has three years left on his deal, with base salaries ranging between $4.02MM and $5.5MM.

On the defensive side of the ball, we heard earlier this month that Morgan was giving thought to signing cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who played for the Panthers in 2021. Morgan indicated at the time that he would revisit the matter after the draft was over.

Over the past three days, Morgan made just one CB addition, selecting Washington State defender Chau Smith-Wade in the fifth-round. As Person opines, Smith-Wade’s diminutive stature will likely force him into a slot role at the professional level, and since Donte Jackson and C.J. Henderson are no longer in the mix, the Panthers still have a need for a boundary corner to join Jaycee Horn and free agent addition Dane Jackson.

In Person’s view, it is an inevitability that the Panthers will sign Gilmore.

Minor NFL Transactions: 3/28/24

Today’s minor moves:

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

A 2022 undrafted free agent out of Virginia Tech, Blackshear has spent the majority of his professional career in Carolina. He’s managed to get in 25 games over his two NFL seasons, collecting 261 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns on 53 touches. He’s also played a significant special teams role, returning 35 kickoffs between 2022 and 2023. Blackshear will likely see a similar role in 2024 behind Chuba Hubbard and Miles Sanders.

Panthers Eyeing Three-Down Role For RB Miles Sanders

The Panthers’ investment in Miles Sanders (four years, $25MM) was one of a small number of lengthy commitments made at the running back position this offseason. The terms of the deal suggest he will have a multi-faceted role in Carolina’s offense, and both player and team anticipate that will be the case.

[RELATED: Sanders Addresses Eagles Exit]

Sanders showed an ability to contribute in the passing game during his rookie season with the Eagles. He recorded 509 yards and three touchdowns on 50 receptions in 2019, but his totals in terms of targets, catches and yards decreased with each passing campaign after that. He expects to once again have a signficant workload through the air.

I think it’ll happen organically just by the coaches that we have here,” the 26-year-old said, via Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). “And they know exactly what type of back I am… I’m looking forward to getting back into that three-down-type back and just flow with it and see what happens.”

Sanders’ position coach in Carolina this year will be Duce Staley, as was the case for his first two campaigns in Philadelphia. Staley was named as a reason Sanders chose to join the Panthers, and the team’s new-look staff will aim to replicate the former second-rounder’s career year (built mostly on rushing production) in 2022. Head coach Frank Reich acknowledged that doing so will involve an uptick in his target share compared to his three most recent Eagles campaigns.

“Miles [is] just a versatile, three-down back” Reich recently said of Sanders, who comfortably sits atop the RB depth chart. “He’s really, in a lot of ways, a complete back. We really look for that in that No. 1 spot. Want [him] to be on the field all three downs.”

Chuba Hubbard and Raheem Blackshear remain in place as depth options after the midseason trade of Christian McCaffrey and the free agent departure of D’Onta Foreman. Their playing time would stand to take a slight step back if Sanders were to remain on the field during passing situations in Carolina, though a three-down approach could pay dividends for an offense which will be led by rookie quarterback Bryce Young. The way snaps are divided in training camp will be worth watching as Sanders settles into his new home.

Panthers RB Miles Sanders Addresses Eagles Exit

One of the few running backs able to land a relatively lucrative multi-year pact during this season’s free agency was Miles Sanders. The new Panthers lead back is in line for a signficant workload, which will mark a difference compared to his time with the Eagles.

Sanders logged a snap share of either 53% or 57% in three of his four seasons in Philadelphia, though he made the most of his opportunities in 2022. The 26-year-old set a new career high in carries (259), rushing yards (1,269) and touchdowns (11) while helping lead the Eagles to the top seed in the NFC. Those totals priced him out of Philadelphia in free agency, and landed him a four-year, $25MM deal with the Panthers.

The former second-rounder was not a major factor in the passing game in 2022, though, as had been the case since his rookie campaign. Sanders acknowledged the opportunity he will have in Carolina to play in a three-down role again, something which will be crucial as the team finds its way with rookie Bryce Young under center. The Penn State product also spoke recently about his usage in the Eagles’ Super Bowl loss, one in which he received only seven carries and took a backseat to Kenneth Gainwell.

“Last game of the season? For all of the marbles? Everybody can answer that question,” Sanders after being asked if he was upset over his playing time in the title game. “If they put themselves in my shoes, would they be happy? I don’t want to make headlines, [but] if it does, I don’t care.” When speaking about his decision to leave Philadelphia, he added, “I can get into that another day, maybe. Maybe you should ask them why I’m moving here” (h/t Steve Reed of the Associated Press).

With his attention squarely focused on his new team, Sanders will look to prove the Panthers’ investment in him a sound one. The Eagles, meanwhile, traded for D’Andre Swift during the draft to add another young, two-way back to their team. Philadelphia will move forward with Swift, free agent signing Rashaad Penny and returnees Gainwell and Boston Scott on their depth chart, as they look to continue their by-committee approach at the RB position.

NFC South Notes: Campbell, Maye, Sanders

Defensive lineman Calais Campbell has accomplished a great deal in his NFL career, though he has never won a Super Bowl ring. So it came as something of a surprise when the six-time Pro Bowler, who is entering his age-37 season, agreed to sign with the Falcons in March after the Ravens made him a cap casualty. After all, Atlanta has not made the playoffs since 2018 and will be starting Desmond Ridder — a 2022 third-round choice who made just four starts in his rookie campaign — at quarterback.

Still, when this offseason arrived, the Falcons had free agency money to spend for the first time in the Terry Fontenot/Arthur Smith era, and they have been especially aggressive in bolstering their defense. Jessie Bates, Mike Hughes, Kaden Elliss, and David Onyemata were signed, and as Mike Rothstein of writes, adding those talents and a player like Campbell supports the message that Fontenot and Smith want to convey: that Atlanta is ready to compete and is a prime destination for high-end talent.

Campbell acknowledged that the uncertainty of the NFC South played a role in his decision (Twitter link via Rothstein), and he believes that the Falcons will indeed contend for a playoff spot in 2023. He spoke glowingly of his meetings with Smith, Fontenot, and new defensive coordinator Ryan Nielsen, and he also watched tape of Ridder. All of that turned the Falcons from a team that was not on Campbell’s radar into the team for which he eschewed an extended free agency courtship.

Now for more from the NFC South, starting with several more items on Campbell and the Falcons:

  • Campbell said that more teams were interested in his services in 2023 than during his free agency stay in 2022, which ultimately concluded with a new deal with Baltimore. He also said he was “close” to signing with another club this year before agreeing to terms with the Falcons, though that mystery team did not make him feel the same way Atlanta did. In addition to his meetings with the Jaguars and Falcons, he had visits with the Jets and Bills on the docket, and he told CBS Sports’ Josina Anderson during an episode of The Crew podcast that Aaron Rodgers — who is expected to join the Jets in the near future — texted him and implored him to sign with Gang Green (Twitter link via Ari Meirov of
  • As Campbell explained in the above-referenced podcast, the Jets tried to get a deal done with him even before his would-be visit with New York, so perhaps they were the team that he nearly picked over the Falcons. And, per Rothstein, another factor that worked in the Falcons’ favor is that Atlanta plans to use him as a “true D-end,” meaning that he will line up on the edge on first and second downs.
  • Saints safety Marcus Maye was arrested in September on a charge of aggravated assault with a firearm. As Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk wrote last month, those charges were dropped due to insufficient evidence. As most NFL fans know by now, the absence of criminal charges does not mean that a player will avoid league punishment, but since the time of Williams’ report, nothing has emerged on that front.
  • Running back Miles Sanders signed a four-year, $25MM contract with the Panthers in March, a deal that features $13MM in guaranteed money. Sanders indicated that the presence of Duce Staley, whom Carolina recently hired as its assistant head coach & running backs coach, was a big reason for his decision to join the Panthers (Twitter link via ESPN’s David Newton). Sanders spent the first four years of his career (2019-22) with the Eagles, and Staley was Philadelphia’s assistant head coach and running backs coach for the first two of those seasons.

Panthers Plan To Sign RB Miles Sanders

The Panthers will have a new-look offense in 2023, and that includes a new running back. The Panthers are planning to sign running back Miles Sanders, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (via Twitter). Mike Garafolo of NFL Network tweets that a deal has been agreed to, while Adam Caplan of Inside the Birds adds that it is a four-year contract (Twitter link). ESPN’s David Newton tweets that the deal is worth $25MM, while Garafolo tweets that the deal contains $13MM in guaranteed money.

The 25-year-old was arguably the top option in this year’s free agent class, one which included a bevy of noteworthy options at the position even after three of them received the franchise tag. Especially now that David Montgomery has a deal in place with the Lions, Sanders represented the biggest RB domino yet to fall as of Wednesday. Knowing that Sanders would price himself out of their range, the Eagles turned to Rashaad Penny yesterday on a low-cost, one-year deal.

Sanders, a 2019 second-round pick, handled a lighter workload than many expected during the first three years of his career. His 5.1 yards per carry average over that span suggested he could produce considerable numbers if utilized as a true No. 1 in the backfield. Sanders found himself in exactly that situation in 2022, and he lived up to expectations.

Pacing the Eagles’ elite running game, the Penn State alum enjoyed a career year during the team’s run to the Super Bowl. He ran for 1,269 yards and 11 touchdowns, adding another 148 yards and a pair of score in the postseason. While Sanders’ pass-catching duties were reduced compared to earlier in his career, he earned himself a relatively sizeable market with his all-around skillset.

By joining the Panthers, Sanders will be reunited with Duce Staley, who holds the title of assistant head coach in Carolina as part of the team’s new coaching staff. He will also coach the team’s running backs, as he did in Philadelphia during Sanders’ rookie season. Head coach Frank Reich has notable ties dating back to his Eagles tenure, so there will be at least a degree of familiarity on that front.

With Sanders in place, Carolina will not be retaining D’Onta Foremanwho took on the lead role after the Panthers traded away Christian McCaffrey. The former’s success to close out the season was expected to earn him considerable interest on the open market, but the Panthers are investing heavily in Sanders instead. He will move atop the team’s RB depth chart as he starts a new chapter of his career, while the Panthers add a significant element to what should once again be a strong ground game.

2023 Top 50 NFL Free Agents

Super Bowl LVII provided the latest example of the value free agency can bring. The Chiefs revamped their receiving corps on last year’s market, while the Eagles acquired three defensive starters — including sack leader Haason Reddick. The Jaguars also used a March 2022 splurge to ignite their surprising surge to the divisional round.

Beginning with the legal tampering period, which starts at 3pm CT on Monday, and continuing with the official start to free agency (3pm Wednesday), the next several days represent a highlight on the NFL calendar. Which teams will change their 2023 outlooks for the better next week?

While the 2023 free agent class has absorbed its share of body blows and indeed lacks depth at certain spots, a few positions will bring waves of starter-level talent. Right tackle will invite some big-money decisions, and the safety and off-ball linebacker positions feature considerable depth. A few ascending talents and hidden gems appear in this class as well.

This list ranks free agents by earning potential. In terms of accomplishments, Bobby Wagner, Fletcher Cox and Lavonte David would lap most of the players included here. With each defender going into his age-33 season, however, the standouts’ ability to command big contracts is certainly not what it once was.

In terms of possible destinations, not every team is represented equally. Some teams will bring more needs and cap space into this year’s marketplace than others. With some help from Adam La Rose, here is this year’s PFR top 50 free agents list, along with potential landing spots for each player.

1. Orlando Brown Jr., T. Age in Week 1: 27

As the 49ers did two years ago with Trent Williams, the Chiefs will let Brown hit the market. This could end up benefiting the veteran tackle, who was offered a deal with an average annual value north of Williams’ tackle-record $23MM per year before last July’s franchise tag deadline. Citing insufficient guarantees, Brown turned it down. Kansas City’s offer did contain a bloated final year to bump up the AAV to $23.1MM, but will Brown – a quality left tackle but not a top-shelf option at the position – do as well this year? He will soon find out.

Brown has now made four Pro Bowls and carries positional versatility that would intrigue were he open to a return to right tackle, which by all accounts he is not. The 363-pound blocker can struggle against speed-rusher types, but he is set to be the rare accomplished left tackle in his prime to hit the market. The Chiefs sent a package including a first-round pick to the Ravens for Brown, whose bet on himself led to a $16.6MM tag and an open market. The bidding will run high, though it might not reach the places the Williams pursuit did in 2021.

The Chiefs’ exclusive negotiating rights with Brown end March 13; they have had nearly two years to complete a deal. The market will determine if the league views the sixth-year blocker as an elite-level left tackle or merely a good one. Then again, bidding wars drive up the prices for O-linemen on the market. O-line salary records have fallen four times (Williams, Corey Linsley, Joe Thuney, Brandon Scherff) in free agency since 2021. This foray could give Brown the guaranteed money he seeks, and it puts the Chiefs at risk of seeing their two-year left tackle depart. The Ravens also passed on this payment back in 2021, in part because they already had Ronnie Stanley on the payroll.

The defending champions have Brown and right tackle Andrew Wylie eligible for free agency; some of their leftover funds from the Tyreek Hill trade went to Brown’s tag. Although some among the Chiefs were frustrated Brown passed on last year’s offer, the team will be hurting at a premium position if he walks. Given the importance the blindside position carries, fewer teams are in need compared to right tackle. The Titans losing Taylor Lewan and continuing to clear cap space could point to a run at Brown, though the team has a few needs up front. The Jets likely have needs at both tackle spots. Would the Bears relocate Braxton Jones to the right side? Ryan Poles was with the Chiefs when they traded for Brown, and the Bears could outmuscle anyone for cap space.

Best fits: Titans, Chiefs, Commanders

2. Mike McGlinchey, T. Age in Week 1: 28

Teams in need of right tackles will participate in one of the more interesting markets in recent memory. Above-average-to-good offensive linemen do well in free agency annually, and this year will send three experienced right tackles in their prime to the market. A five-year starter in San Francisco and former top-10 pick, McGlinchey has a good case as the best of this lot. The five-year vet’s run-blocking craft eclipses his pass-protection chops exiting Year 5, but he will walk into a competitive market. The former Notre Dame left tackle should have a lucrative deal in place during next week’s legal tampering period.

Although mutual interest existed regarding a second 49ers-McGlinchey agreement, John Lynch acknowledged the only viable path for McGlinchey to stay in San Francisco would be his market underwhelming. That seems unlikely, so right tackle-seeking teams – and there are a handful – will jockey for the sixth-year veteran. McGlinchey turned 28 in January, making this his obvious window to cash in. He rated fifth in ESPN’s run block win rate stat last season, bouncing back from the quadriceps injury that ended his 2021 season.

There is no shortage of Kyle Shanahan– or Sean McVay-influenced schemes around the league. The Bears employ Luke Getsy as their play-caller; Getsy worked for Shanahan/McVay tree branch Matt LaFleur, and the Bears’ cap space dwarfs every other team’s. After fielding a shaky O-line (on a team full of substandard position groups), Chicago needs a better idea of Justin Fields’ trajectory. Outbidding the field for the top right tackle available is a good start. The Patriots want a right tackle – on a line without a big contract presently – and the Raiders might have a say here as well. In need at multiple O-line spots, Las Vegas will have cash as well if it passes on a big QB investment.

Best fits: Bears, Patriots, Raiders

3. Jawann Taylor, T. Age in Week 1: 26

As expected, the Jaguars took Evan Engram off the market via the franchise tag. The tight end tag being $7MM cheaper than the $18.2MM offensive lineman tag always pointed Taylor toward free agency, and after never missing a start in four Duval County seasons, Taylor will be tough for the Jags to retain. They already drafted Walker Little in the 2021 second round, and no team that is currently paying a left tackle top-10 money (Cam Robinson is seventh) has a top-10 right tackle contract on the books. Taylor is expected to land at least a top-10 right tackle deal, with a $17MM-AAV figure being floated. That would place the former Florida Gator in the top five at the position, depending on how McGlinchey fares next week.

Taylor resembles the genre of player that usually populates the top of a position’s free agency market: a dependable performer who checks in below the top tier at his job. Taylor enjoyed his strongest year in his platform campaign. The former second-round pick dropped his hold count from 11 in 2021 to two in 2022. While PFF charged Taylor with five sacks allowed, Football Outsiders measured his blown-block rate at a career-low 1.3%. Offering a disparate skillset compared to McGlinchey, Taylor has fared better as a pass protector than in the run game. PFF slotted him as a top-10 pass protector among right tackles but viewed him as a dismal run-blocker.

The Jags have presumably made Taylor an offer, but other teams will probably top it. The Dolphins gave Terron Armstead a five-year, $75MM deal in 2022 but have needed a right tackle ever since Ja’Wuan James’ 2019 exit. They were forced to start in-season pickup Brandon Shell for much of the year and have cleared more than $45MM in cap space over the past two days. The team just picked up Tua Tagovailoa‘s fifth-year option, and the league’s lone southpaw starting QB needs better blindside protection after a season in which he suffered at least two concussions. Overspending on O-linemen is not the Patriots’ M.O., but they have a need at right tackle and do not have big dollars devoted to quarterback or any position up front. New England is on the hunt for a right tackle upgrade, and the team’s 2021 free agency showed it would spend when it deemed expenditures necessary.

Best fits: Dolphins, Patriots, Jaguars

4. Jimmy Garoppolo, QB. Age in Week 1: 31

The quarterback market cleared up this week, seeing Geno Smith and Daniel Jones extended and Derek Carr’s lengthy street free agency stretch end with $70MM in practical guarantees. Garoppolo’s injury history will affect his value, but teams kind of make it a priority to staff this position. The former Super Bowl starter is in his prime and on the market for the first time. How high this market goes will depend on what the Raiders want and what Aaron Rodgers decides.

The 49ers’ 12-game win streak that included Brock Purdy’s stunning displays began with Garoppolo at the controls. Guiding San Francisco to four straight wins, Garoppolo was at or close to his best when he suffered a broken foot in Week 13. He sported a 7-0 TD-INT ratio during that win streak and closed the season 16th in QBR. He would have walked into a better market had the injury not occurred; the setback came after a string of health issues. He tore an ACL in 2018, missed 10 games in 2020 after an ankle sprain and was significantly limited by the end of the 2021 slate due to a three-injury season. Garoppolo’s March 2022 shoulder surgery hijacked his trade market.

Ideally for Garoppolo, Rodgers returns to Green Bay or retires. While that is looking unlikelier by the day, it would put the Jets in a desperate position following Carr’s decision. The Raiders represent the other wild card. Garoppolo would slide into Josh McDaniels’ system seamlessly, given the parties’ three-plus years together in New England. The Raiders have operated a bit more stealthily compared to the Jets; they have been connected to Rodgers, Garoppolo and rolling with a rookie. Plan C here would be a tough sell given the presences of 30-year-old skill-position players Davante Adams and Darren Waller, but Las Vegas’ plans cloud Garoppolo’s market. If the Raiders pass and Rodgers chooses the Jets, Garoppolo’s earning power could drop.

McDaniels not fancying a Garoppolo reunion opens the door for the Texans, who hired ex-49ers pass-game coordinator Bobby Slowik as OC, and others. Houston’s situation may not appeal to Garoppolo, but Slowik and Nick Caserio being in Houston make this connection too clear to ignore. The Buccaneers and Commanders are in win-now positions but are giving indications they do not want to spend much at QB. The Commanders were deep in talks for the then-49ers QB last year, however. Garoppolo will test those squads, along with the Falcons, who are entering Year 3 of the Terry FontenotArthur Smith regime. The Panthers’ acquisition of the No. 1 pick likely takes them out of the running, and Carolina not being in the mix could also affect how high the Garoppolo price goes.

Bottom line, there should be enough teams interested in staffing their 2023 QB1 spots that the best free agent option should do OK no matter what happens with Rodgers.

Best fits: Raiders, Texans, Commanders

5. Jamel Dean, CB. Age in Week 1: 26

The Buccaneers retained Carlton Davis last year, but their dire cap situation should force a Dean departure. Dean’s age/performance combination should make him this year’s top cornerback available. With corner a position of need for many teams, the former third-round pick stands to do very well. Dean has only been a full-time starter in one season, however, seeing his defensive snap share jump from 67% in 2021 to 90% last season.

Excelling in press coverage, Dean played a major role for the 2020 Super Bowl champion Bucs iteration and overtook fellow free agent Sean Murphy-Bunting last year. Dean did perform better in 2021 compared to 2022, allowing no touchdowns and limiting QBs to a collective 50.0 passer rating; those numbers shot up to four and 86.0 last season. Still, PFF rated Dean as last year’s 10th-best corner. J.C. Jackson did not break into the top five among corners upon hitting the market last year; Dean should not be expected to do so, either. But many teams will be interested.

The Patriots have paid up for a corner previously, in Stephon Gilmore (2017), but Jonathan Jones – forced to primarily play a boundary role in 2022 – wants to re-sign and will be far cheaper than Dean. The Falcons need help opposite AJ Terrell and trail only the Bears in cap space. Although a Terrell payment is coming, it can be tabled to 2024 due to the fifth-year option. The Dolphins are clearing cap space and now have a corner need, with Byron Jones no longer with the team after his missed season.

Best fits: Dolphins, Falcons, Patriots

6. Jessie Bates, S. Age in Week 1: 26

Bates stands to be one of this free agency crop’s safest bets, combining extensive experience – the final two years as a pillar for a championship threat – with a host of prime years remaining. Beginning his career at 21, the Wake Forest product has started 79 games and anchored the Bengals’ secondary for most of his tenure. The Bengals did not tag Bates for a second time, passing on a $15.5MM price. With the team planning to let Bates test the market, it looks like the sixth-year defender will leave Cincinnati.

The Bengals and Bates went through two offseasons of negotiations, ending in the 2022 tag. The Bengals have some big payments to make at higher-profile positions. Safety does not qualify as such, but Bates has been a cornerstone in Lou Anarumo’s defense and will be handsomely rewarded. Bates finished as Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 overall safety in 2020 and, after a shakier 2021 in which he admitted his contract situation affected his play, Bates came through with impact plays in the postseason. He graded as a top-25 safety, via PFF, in 2022.

Safety is one of this year’s deeper positions in free agency. Of the top 10 safety contracts, however, only one went to a free agent (Marcus Williams in 2022). Bates should be expected to join the Ravens defender, who signed for $14MM per year. It will be interesting if he can climb into the top five at the position; Justin Simmons’ $15.25MM-AAV accord sits fifth. Bates should be expected to approach or eclipse that, though moving to the Derwin JamesMinkah Fitzpatrick tier will be more difficult. Still, after the Bengals offered Bates less than $17MM guaranteed last summer, he should depart for more guaranteed money.

The Browns are interested in Bates, who will cost more than John Johnson cost Cleveland two years ago (three years, $33.75MM). Clear of the record-setting Matt Ryan dead-money hit, the Falcons have cash to spend and a Terry FontenotArthur Smith regime entering Year 3. The Falcons need to make progress, and they do not have much in the way of talent or costs at safety. The team has not featured much here since the Keanu NealRicardo Allen tandem splintered. Bates would be a way to remedy that.

Team fits: Falcons, Browns, Raiders

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Eagles Likely To Let Miles Sanders Walk In Free Agency

While Miles Sanders is a near-certainty not to be franchise-tagged, this year’s batch of tag decisions will likely affect the Eagles running back. Various teams’ tag decisions — two of them in the NFC East — stand to impact Sanders, who is likely to hit free agency.

The Eagles, who have most of their starting defense unsigned, are not expected to bring back Sanders on a second contract, Ralph Vacchiano of Fox Sports notes. GM Howie Roseman is not believed to want to make a notable investment at the running back position, which would send Sanders to a crowded market. Sanders, 26, would like to stay in Philadelphia. He may not have that option, given how many other priorities the NFC champions will have in free agency.

[RELATED: Eagles Want To Re-Sign C.J. Gardner-Johnson]

How the Cowboys, Giants and Raiders proceed with their respective tags will determine how crowded that market will be. Tony Pollard, Saquon Barkley and Josh Jacobs are on the tag radar. Barkley’s tag status will depend on if the Giants and Daniel Jones can reach an extension agreement in the next week. Jacobs’ place as a tag recipient is less certain, though that scenario has been on the radar for a while now. Pollard looks likeliest to be tagged. These three being off the market will move Sanders and others up on teams’ various boards, and the former second-round pick is coming off a big year.

Barkley’s successor at Penn State, Sanders smashed his career-high rushing total with 1,269 yards en route to Pro Bowl acclaim. He added 11 rushing TDs, nearly doubling his previous career-best mark, and resided as a central cog in the Eagles’ dominant ground attack. The Jalen Hurts-led offense, however, did not focus much on Sanders as an aerial threat. He totaled 78 receiving yards this season and did not surpass 200 in 2020 or 2021. In Carson Wentz‘s final full season as Philly’s starter, however, Sanders amassed 509 receiving yards. That season stands out from his next three and his lone year as the Nittany Lions’ starter (139). Sanders’ lack of steady receiving contributions will affect his value.

Even if the top three free agent backs are cuffed via the tag, Sanders is still on track to join several other starters on the market. Kareem Hunt, Devin Singletary, Jamaal Williams, David Montgomery, D’Onta Foreman, Damien Harris and both the Dolphins’ primary 2022 backs (Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson) are ticketed for free agency. There are also not too many teams in need at the position, which will likely depress the market ahead of a draft viewed as being full of promising (and cheap, save for Bijan Robinson) options at the oft-devalued job.

This array of options could give teams chances to retain their top backs at low costs. The Eagles have both Sanders and longtime backup Boston Scott headed for free agency (along with Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo and eight defensive starters). Absent low-cost reunions with one of those backs, Kenneth Gainwell poised to play a bigger role in 2023. The Eagles should also be expected to draft a back to team with Gainwell, Vacchiano adds.

RB Miles Sanders Eyeing New Eagles Deal

The Eagles entered the 2022 campaign with significant expectations, and their performance during the regular season has Philadelphia positioned as Super Bowl contenders. A key member of the team’s offense is looking to parlay his production into a new contract once their playoff run is over.

Running back Miles Sanders is a pending free agent, which could put him in line to be one of the more sought-after players at the position this March. If he has his way, however, he will be able to remain with the Eagles in 2023 and beyond by virtue of signing a new deal.

The 25-year-old had a down year in terms of yardage totals in 2021 by virtue of missing time with an ankle injury. However, his 5.5 yards per carry average was a career best, showcasing his potential when healthy and leading to heightened expectations for the 2022 campaign. Sanders responded by comfortably setting new personal benchmarks in rushing yards (1,269) and touchdowns (11). Those figures ranked fifth and fourth in the NFL, respectively, and led to his first Pro Bowl selection.

Having showcased his potential, the former second-rounder has no doubt boosted his free agent value in the event he hits the open market. Sanders could join what is shaping up to be a loaded free agent class at the position, one which has in recent years become notably devalued. The lack of progress on contract talks with the Eagles last offseason, and his overall status relative to the league’s top tailbacks drove his career-year, though.

“We try to ignore all the stuff that’s being said about us, but we hear it, we see it,” Sanders said, via ESPN’s Tim McManus“I just tuck it in… Especially when I’m training, I’m thinking like, ‘OK, I really don’t have no respect out here. Why don’t people respect me?’ Stuff like that going through my head. I just wanted to earn a lot of respect. And the only way I knew how to do that was work, work, work.”

The Eagles are currently projected to rank mid-pack in the league in terms of offseason cap space, and already have rotational backs Kenneth Gainwell and Trey Sermon under contract for 2023. Quarterback Jalen Hurts – who put himself in the MVP conversation this year with his own breakout performance – is also eligible for an extension, so talks on that front will undoubtedly be a top priority in the near future.

Sanders’ play in the postseason could affect his ranking in the pending free agent class, which could also include former Penn State teammate Saquon Barkley. Regardless of how the former (who added that he “loves” Philadelphia) fares in the divisional round this weekend, he will be a name to watch as the offseason begins to unfold.